If you need prints that are over 2 feet wide, you might want to purchase a wide format printer.Wide format printers, which are sometimes called plotters, can create oversized prints in color or black and white on many types of substrates. Printing widths of 24” to 72” or more are possible. A wide format device can easily and efficiently produce oversized prints. From banners, to vehicle wraps, to signage, wide format machines can be a useful tool for creating large prints. If you are looking into wide format printers, you have come to the right place, as Edwards Business Systems is a major dealer of these systems.
Once you determine that you need a wide format printer, the next steps are to learn about features, capabilities, and price. It can be difficult to research wide format printer prices, because they vary so much. But in this article, we will try to provide clarity and realistic and honest price estimates to help you calculate your budget for purchasing a wide format printer.
Definition of a Wide Format Printer
The general definition of a wide format printer is a printer that has a maximum printing width between 24 and 100 inches. There are many types of wide format printers, such as aqueous inkjet, solvent inkjet, UV inkjet, and toner-based.
The most frequently seen is the aqueous inkjet printer, which is known for speed, quality of output, and lower costs. Solvent inkjet printers use durable solvent-based inks that make them a good choice for outdoor applications, as they remain durable in bad weather and extreme conditions. However, solvent inks may be toxic, and in many cases are not environmentally friendly. UV inkjet printers are commonly configured as flatbed models, which allows them to print on a very wide range of materials. These devices use UV light to dry the ink in matter of seconds. The ink in UV inkjet printers tends to be very durable, much like the ink in solvent ink devices. Finally, there are toner-based wide format printers. Toner-based machines use dry toner that is fused to the substrate with heat and pressure, much like a copier or laser printer.
Wide format printing is economical for short-run or one-off projects such as banners, car wraps, engineering drawings and trade show signage.
Wide Format Printer Varieties
There are two types of imaging systems for wide format printers:
- Ink-based or Inkjet
Toner-based devices use dry toner that is transferred to the paper via a photoreceptor drum, and the dry toner is fused (melted) into the paper using a heated pressure roller or fuser. Ink-based or inkjet wide format printers deposit droplets of liquid ink onto the paper, forcing the droplets through a nozzle assembly using heat and pressure. Wide format printers are most commonly used in commercial printers and the AEC (architects, engineers, and construction) industry.
If you are a graphic designer, you will probably like inkjet wide format printers because you will be printing in full color on a variety of textiles and papers. A color inkjet wide format printer can print in color on a wide range of substrates in high-resolution. If you are printing outdoor signage, you will want an inkjet wide format printer that uses UV-based inks for durability and colorfastness outdoors.
If you are an engineer or an architect, you will probably want a toner-based wide format device. They are perfect for drafting and CAD applications. They’re faster than inkjet and are designed for higher print volumes.
How Wide Do I Need?
Once you’ve determined what type of ink would work best, next you will want to decide on size. Wide format devices come in following sizes:
Wide format printers generally print on rolls of paper or other materials that are up to 100 yards long. Flatbed wide format devices can print on a dizzying array of substrates that are held onto a large table where the substrate is then imaged. Some flatbed wide format printers can print onto objects as thick as 4 inches.
For most applications, 36 inches is the standard format size. A 36-inch wide format printer is wide enough to handle most engineering drawings. When deciding on the best size device for a graphic arts project, consider what you will be printing. Determine device size based on the type of project you usually print or anticipate printing. For example, if you are in the outdoor advertising or billboard business, there are wide format printers that can generate prints up to 16 feet wide!
What Drives Up the Cost of a Wide Format Printer?
Better Print Quality Costs More
Print quality increases price. The cost of a wide format printer usually increases as print quality increases. Consider the following factors:
- Droplet size
- Number of ink colors
Print resolution is based on the number of dots per inch (DPI) the device can print. Droplet size is also a factor, generally the smaller the ink droplet size, the higher the DPI and the better the print quality will be. More ink colors increase color quality. A 12-ink printer will produce higher quality color images and a larger color range than a 6-ink printer.
The easiest way to judge print quality is to look at a sample printed on the device you are considering. Be sure the sample is printed on the same material with the same device settings you will be using. Print quality can change substantially with paper type and print settings.
Higher print quality = higher price.
Faster Print Speed Almost Always Costs More
Print speed is another important criterion. Toner printer speed is measured in D-size prints that can be output in a minute. A D-size print is 24 inches by 36 inches. It is the standard size for architecture and engineering printing. Inkjet print speed is measured by how many square feet they can print per minute. When comparing speeds, consider the relationship between print speed and image quality. Most inkjet printers print faster at a lower quality setting. Be sure the device you are evaluating can produce the quality you need.
- If you print 2000 D-size prints or more per month, you should consider a toner-based wide format printer
- If your print volume is lower, say less than 2000 D-size prints per month, consider an inkjet printer
- Toner-based wide format printers usually cost more than a comparable inkjet model, but toner-based devices usually cost less to operate
Printer Features Add Cost
Another important factor to consider is the functions and features of your wide format printer:
- Scan/Copy Function allows the printer to scan hard copy originals
- Paper Cutter automatically separates each print from roll of paper
- Multiple Paper Feeds hold more than one roll at a time to allow for printing of different sized documents
- Multiple Catch Trays will automatically gather and sort output to allow for unattended operation of your wide format printer
- High-end DFE/RIP such as Onyx, Caldera, or EFI Fiery will add speed, functionality, color management, and the ability to drive multiple wide format print engines
Size is Important, Bigger Costs More
There is not much to say here, other than there is a relationship between larger format size and cost of the device.
What Decreases the Cost of Wide Format Printers?
New or Used?
Buying used can save a significant amount of money. What type of wide format device are you considering? Toner-based devices tend to last longer and have a longer service life than inkjet wide format printers. Be sure to ask questions about age, how many prints, and what environment a used wide format print device is coming from before you buy.
The technology used in toner equipment has generally stayed constant. Toner-based wide format printers are usually more durable and last longer than inkjet printers. If you want a toner-based printer but can’t afford a new model, a used toner-based printer can be a good choice. Some dealers will even offer the same warranties and service contracts that they offer for new devices.
Ink or Toner?
The purchase cost of an inkjet wide format device is usually less than that of a comparable toner-based device. However, the overall operating cost of toner-based technology is much less expensive than inkjet, especially UV-based inkjet.
Roll-fed Costs Less Than Flatbed
If you do not need to print on three-dimensional objects, or on items that are less than 1/16 of an inch thick, you can usually use a less expensive roll fed wide format printer instead of a flatbed machine.
OK, So What Do Wide Format Printers Actually Cost?
Below are some estimated costs for some different wide format printers:
- A 24″ wide format inkjet printer has an average cost between $1000 and $2000.
- A 36″ wide format inkjet printer has an average cost between $3000 and $4000.
- A 44″ wide format inkjet printer has an average cost between $4000 and $8000.
- A 60″ wide format inkjet printer has an average cost between $9,000 and $16,000.
- A 36″ UV flatbed printer has an average cost between $9,000 and $15,000.
- A 60″ commercial grade production wide format inkjet printer with more than 4 ink colors has an average cost between $16,000 and $25,000.
- A Mimaki 60″ UV LED flatbed printer has an average cost of $45,000 to $60,000.
- Toner printers have a broader price range. Smaller, low-end models start at around $10,000 to $15,000, with larger, newer models costing as much as $60,000 to $65,000.
Are Some Wide Format Printer Dealers More Expensive?
Yes, there are substantial cost and price differences between dealers, even for the exact same wide format device. Here are some possible explanations:
- Some dealers are more expensive because they have better technicians who command higher salaries which means higher cost. A cheap wide format device will end up costing you more in the long run if it is down and not running.
- Some wide format printer dealerships charge more because of the brand of production printer(s) that they represent. Much like automobiles, some brands command a higher price. A Mercedes is going to cost more than a Ford. A similarly featured Mimaki wide format printing device may cost more than an HP. Be sure to understand your consumable and service contract costs as well.
Are Some Wide Format Printing Dealers Less Expensive?
Much like the question about why some production printer dealers are MORE expensive than others, consider the following:
- Some wide format printer dealers have high turnover of their service technicians. Less experienced techs can mean that they are paid less and may have lower service overhead costs. This is actually a bad thing for customers, as they may suffer more downtime.
- Some dealerships may represent less expensive brands of wide format machines.
- Other dealers may be high-volume sellers of wide format devices which means they may have more experience placing wide format machines, and the efficiency makes their price for a wide format printer cheaper.
- Some unscrupulous companies may be selling a wide format printer as a new device, but it may be refurbished or may be a demo unit with many prints already on it. Be sure to ask your wide format sales professional to tell you about the history of any wide format machine you are thinking about buying.
Where does Edwards Business Systems Fit?
Edwards Business Systems tends to sit in the center of the price range for wide format printing devices. Not too cheap, not too expensive, but just right. We employ experienced wide format technicians and we pay them a salary that is reflective of their abilities. We also sell a consistently high volume of wide format systems, so we understand our processes. We also have some used wide format devices in our inventory and demo rooms that are available as more cost-effective options. So if you are interested in learning more about wide format printing, please contact us and an experienced member of our wide format printer sales team will reach out to you.